The following poem was inspired by a coincidence: two trees recently became prominent in the news at almost the same time. One was the so-called “white tree” in Jena, La., which had become a symbol of de facto racism on campus. Since the incident of the nooses hanging from it and the subsequent attack by a group of Black students on a white student, the tree was cut down to make room for reconstruction of a school building that had suffered a fire in what is believed to have been arson.
The other, a chestnut tree outside the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, is dying from various diseases. Its imminent demise has ignited a movement to preserve it because of its emotional significance during the two years of the Frank’s self-incarceration. On May 13, 1944, Anne wrote in her diary: “Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.” Annemarie Bekker, an official of the house, said, “For Anne, the tree represented comfort, consolation, freedom, a longing for freedom.”
Three months after Anne wrote about the tree in her diary she and her family were rounded up by the Nazis. She died from typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Two trees half a world apart
And all the world different:
One a symbol of hate,
The other of hope.
One has been cut down,
The other is dying.
But what they signify remains.
The “white tree” is a strain that poisons
the landscape of America.
Some are saplings, weakly sprung,
And some are deeply rooted.
But the ailing tree that warmed the heart
of a young girl
Stands tall and strong in the minds of those
who read her diary.
The trees of Jena and Amsterdam will survive
As long as what they stood for stands.
We reflect ourselves in Nature’s wonders,
Revealing who we are in Nature’s hands.